On behalf of Seed2Need, I would like to thank all of the donors, property owners and volunteers who made our 2020 season possible. This year, projects like Seed2Need were more important than ever. With COVID cases rising, businesses and schools shutting down, and the sharp increase in unemployment, many families are struggling to feed their families and our food pantries are having a hard time keeping up with demand. If you can afford to help, please consider making a food or cash donation to Roadrunner Food Bank or to the food pantry of your choice this holiday season. Your help will be deeply appreciated.
2020 Year-End Report | A challenge for us all
2020 started out as a promising year. Seed2Need had higher than average volunteer turnout in February when it was time to prune fruit trees and to start seed for the gardens. Then COVID hit. From that point on, 2020 was a year when it became necessary to adapt to the unique situations associated with the pandemic. Let me provide a few examples.
For eight years, a local high school has helped Seed2Need transplant seedlings into six-packs as part of a service/learning program on hunger and poverty in New Mexico. The schools were closed this year. I was concerned about how we were going to safely get 4,000-5,000 seedlings transplanted in the middle of a pandemic. I sent out a note asking Seed2Need volunteers for help and had an overwhelming response. We navigated social distancing by setting up a table in the front yard, where volunteers could pick up seedlings and transplanting supplies. Within two days they had all of the seedlings transplanted and dropped off at the greenhouse.
Planting the Gardens
Planting occurs in mid-May and it is typically an Eagle Scout project. The Eagle Scout recruits 100 or more volunteers and that enables us to plant all three Seed2Need gardens within four hours. This includes planting 2000 tomato plants, installing tomato cages, and covering all of the cages with row cover. Row cover is used to protect the tomato plants from beet leaf hoppers, an insect that spreads a disease called Curly Top Virus.
Planting large gardens without risking COVID infection required a different approach. Instead of planting the gardens in one four-hour session, planting was broken up into two-hour sessions spread out over six days, each session was limited to 8-10 participants and there was an age restriction that excluded those most susceptible to COVID. Everyone also wore a mask and distanced themselves in the gardens.
Unlike prior years, we were unable to cover the tomato cages with row cover because this step requires too many people and too much close contact. As a result, we lost a higher number of tomato plants to Curly Top Virus. However, to compensate for that loss, we pulled up the diseased plants and replaced them with squash.
Harvest Schedule and Distribution
Harvest sessions were handled in a similar manner, i.e. volunteers were required to wear masks, to distance themselves in the gardens and we only accepted adult volunteers.
COVID concerns also changed the way the food pantries distributed food. They handled distribution as a “drive thru,” where each car was handed a prepackaged box of food instead of allowing people inside of the food pantry to select what they wanted. In order to give the food pantries additional time to add our produce to the boxes, we changed our harvest schedule so we could provide fresh produce to the food pantries earlier in the week.
Several food pantries also experienced staff shortages this summer. When these food pantries lost truck drivers, we delivered the produce ourselves. We also received help from a new volunteer who delivered produce to one of the food pantries on a weekly basis.
Other impacts include two nights of hard frost in April when the fruit trees were in full bloom. This wiped out most of the fruit crop in the Rio Grande Valley. Because we were unable to glean fruit this year, it reduced our total harvest by approximately 20,000 – 30,000 pounds.
Although we had a good tomato crop, the fruit was smaller than usual. I blame that on temperature. We had a very hot summer and high heat negatively impacts fruit set on tomatoes and increases blossom end rot.
I am pleased with our results despite the problems experienced this year. Our total vegetable harvest was 25,174 pounds which is an average harvest compared to the past three years. Hopefully, we will have better weather in 2021 so we can also add fruit to our donations.
I would like to thank all of our sponsors, volunteers and property owners again for helping us reduce hunger in New Mexico. We appreciate your participation and support.
Best wishes for a joyful holiday season! Stay safe and please protect yourself and others by wearing a mask.
Penny Davis, Executive Director